OUR MONTHLY GOSSIP - CHARACTER AT A CAT-SHOW
Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Vol. 10. London: J. B. Lippincott, 1872
A cat-show was advertised at the Sydenham Crystal Palace last May. I went. I found on exhibition two hundred and eleven cats, many of them unwillingly torn from their domestic hearths. They were separately confined in two rows of tin cages wired in front. We who came to gaze, being marshaled in line under the surveillance of a police man, were made to march slowly up in front of one row of cats and down the other, the cages being placed back to back. If any lingered by some more attractive cat, the man in authority cried out, as in the streets of London, " Move on !"' As regards sight-seeing, the cats had the best of it, since they could sit comfortably quiet and view the endless panorama of human faces moving past them. Some of them appeared to enjoy it : others seemed indifferent. Many slept as they would on a garden wall or a warm hearth-rug, or looked on us dozingly, indicating an enviable condition of calm enjoyment and mental equilibrium.
Some were very shabby-looking cats, apparently more familiar with the cellars than the parlors of London. They belonged to the lower feline orders. They seemed of that class often to be seen in cities sleeping by day in the charred apartments of partly - burned buildings, fur rough and slovenly, eyes sore and watery, holding themselves in low estimate, lacking dignity and self-respect — rowdy cats, having neither home nor mistress, uncared-for and unpetted in kittenhood, bred in vicious and vagrant youth, perishing miserably in old age, stoned and clubbed to death by boys on the same plane of disreputability ; their corpses denied burial, being flung into the street or the filthy lakelets common to the outskirts of all large cities, where they float about for a time ghastly and gaseous lumps of bloated hideousness.
Worthy of especial notice was one stately, aristocratic cat, whose expression, as he regarded the crowd of humanity in front indicated him as a feline Sybarite, whose finer taste and habit protested against thus being made a show of, in common with low and vulgar cats and the frivolous and noisy cockatoos screeching a few yards from his cage, but whose higher philosophy served to make his present condition not only endurable, but pleasant, inasmuch as, being made a spectacle for the crowd, he retaliated by making for himself a spectacle of them, returning the stare of curiosity with the gaze of calmness, and the stare of emptiness with that of deep speculation. This was a cat who could travel with profit, whose remembrance of the showy confusion within the Crystal Palace ; the occasional burst of music from the orchestra ; the gigantic ferns here and there, giving to the whole an air of a bit of the tropics transplanted and maintained under glass ; the bustle of lunch-tables and fluffing about of solemn young waiters in white neck-cloths ; the "American Bar," with its framed list of thirty national drinks, including "eye openers" and "corpse-revivers;" the thousand and one busts of great men so thickly herded together, as if greatness had become common,—would be in after years still a clear and distinct picture, from which he would extract much material for pleasant and profitable thought.
Among the two hundred and eleven I noticed several astonished cats, who seemed all wonder that they should be dragged from their retirement, sealed in tin cages and set up before the gaze of thousands. Theirs, at this staggering era of existence, showed simple wonder, unmixed with terror or vexation, being akin to the sensation experienced by some country girl on first visiting a great city. They were humble, unaspiring cats, deeming life complete in catching their quota of rats and mice, rearing the share of kittens allotted them by destiny. and finally, having quietly slidden into a torpid old age, dying without having ever held an office or excited a revolution. But this enforced visit and confinement at the Crystal Palace will for the remainder of life stand out the most prominent incident of their earthly probation, like Aunt Jane's first, last and only trip to the city.
There was a young and innocent kitten, ornamented about the neck with blue ribbon, her time of life corresponding to the short-gown-and-pantalet era of girlhood, still in happy ignorance of all future trial, with as yet no feverish longing for matrimony nor black dread of celibacy, pleased still to play with a string, and capable of becoming completely absorbed in the pursuit of her own tail, ready to frolic with any finger thrust into her cage, and not even annoyed at the impertinent pokes she received from umbrellas, canes and parasols, her simplicity shutting from her the knowledge that such acts should be considered insults.
One young mother with three kittens seemed as composed as if in her own household, being quite indifferent to the spectators while regarding the antics of her family with an air of tender gravity and superiority peculiar to all young mothers with or without claws. Louder than words this certain manner of youthful maternity says to mankind, "You, sir, may be learned in all the knowledge of the Egyptians, you may be verged in all the intricacies of law, war, science and government, but there is one territory of thought and experience you can not enter, inasmuch as you know not what it is to be a mother, and you never can or will know ; and I am by the extent of such knowledge and experience your superior, for maternity has avenues of thought all its own."
I saw none there outrivaling "Our Jake" at home in America. Jake is a Maltese, huge and generally lazy. He was educated by a sea-captain, and by him left with our family several years ago. Jumping through your arms is his chief accomplishment. He shirks that now whenever possible. He deems it beneath the dignity of middle age. He sleeps on the bed with our folks. On very cold nights he burrows under the blankets. His hour for retiring is half-past nine. He signifies his readiness for rest by going to the bed-room door and looking anxiously around. He likes to rise by daylight. If our folks do not respond, he makes three separate demonstrations. First, he gets up, stretches himself ; then sits upon our folks and looks gravely in their faces. Sometimes he touches one of their eyes with his paw. This is his gentle way of saying, " It's time to get up." But if our folks say, with Solomon's sluggard, "A little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands," etc., Jake jumps off the bed and makes himself very disagreeable and noisy by scratching at the door. If there is then no movement, he jumps on the bed again and trots all over our folks. This is a more determined way of saying, "Come, come! Well, I never! Ain't you going to get up to-day ?" Jake is heavy : he is aldermanic. His trot generally brings our folks to terms. When he sees them down stairs and the kitchen-fire kindled, he seems better satisfied. He smells his own breakfast not far off. But he troubles none with the demands of his stomach until the rest are satisfied. He is a cat of order, regularity and etiquette. When he sees the chairs drawn back and the knives and forks laid down, he indicates that his time for being served has come, by a slight, well-bred mew. He knows his place in the family. He knows he is ornamental, useful and amusing. He asks but for justice and the warmest corner by the fireplace. For that, in winter, he has a weakness which some times fills the house with the smell of burnt fur. His hatred of other cats is intense. He allows none on the premises. The sight of one in the back yard overturns his whole mental equilibrium. He spends hours at the window on the lookout for invaders. He seems to have discarded all companionship with his own race.
Sometimes there comes a terrible outcry, spitting and scratching from the cellar. Jake has found therein a strange cat. He is routing the enemy. He comes up stairs in his war-paint,, bristles still raised, tail enlarged, eyes glaring. Vengeance has been done. The territory is cleared of intruders. Somebody's cat has gone home to die. But Jake has a cowardly dread of boys. He knows instinctively that boys' inhumanity to cats has caused countless thousands of his kind to mourn. He knows that most boys are savages who would delight in putting him to any prolonged torture. When he sees a gang of boys prowling about the neighborhood, he retires into the innermost chamber. Had he his way, there should be no boys. He would like to have been King Herod's cat.